Tim Farron: We must tackle the ‘inexcusable’ gay blood ban

Newly-elected Lib Dem leader Tim Farron explains why he supports the campaign to end the “discriminatory” ban on gay blood donation.

Today sees the launch of FreedomToDonate – a massively important campaign to review the discriminatory rules on blood donation in the UK. And I’m thrilled to put my support behind it, because the existing rules – which bar sexually active gay men, along with anyone who has ever injected drugs, or had sex for payment – are scientifically and socially outdated, deeply and unjustly stigmatising, and urgently need to change.

I’m proud to say that the Lib Dems have, with many others, been campaigning since 2006 to end to the ban on gay men donating blood, and in 2011 we won a partial victory. This removed the restriction on gay men – but only if they had been celibate for 12 months.

By any standards this seems like a pretty high price to pay for the privilege of selflessly offering a gift that literally saves lives. Thousands of lives across the UK every day – possible even those of our parents, grandparents, children and loved ones.

And, strangely, it has created a situation where blood is accepted from lots of other groups who, on the evidence, are at higher risk of contracting HIV and other blood-borne infections than gay men.

So while gay men practicing safe sex are banned from donating, straight men and women who may well engage in far riskier practices are not.

And many women married to bisexual men are banned, even if their husbands are not, because there is a 12-month ban for women who have slept with men who have ever had sex with another man.

This patently doesn’t make sense – and it is frankly inexcusable that we have a prurient statutory policy that discriminates against and stigmatises gay and bisexual men, transgender people, and those who sleep with them.

Perhaps the biggest irony is that we are putting barriers in the way of people doing something unbelievably generous and absolutely vital to help other people.

And with blood donation falling massively over the last decade, we literally cannot afford to turn people away on the basis of a confused and judgemental policy that doesn’t fit our needs or sensibilities.

The current rules are based on assumptions of fixed, binary sex and gender identities that make no sense now, if they ever did, and, as well as being offensive – not just to those affected, but actually, to all of us – it’s frankly stupid to lock out millions of people who are willing and able to help.

I believe the best – and actually, the only – way to keep blood donation safe is to apply evidence-based policy. We’re clearly not there yet, but I hope with your support FreedomToDonate will help get us closer.

Tim Farron is leader of the Liberal Democrats.